Follow:
Topics:
    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Tao of Pooh by Ben Hoff

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Hoff is a follower of Taoism and in 1982 he wrote The Tao of Pooh as a way to introduce the Eastern belief system to the Western reader.  Using the beloved A.A. Milne characters from the Winnie-the-Pooh series, Hoff tells the simple story of Tao.

    I found this book in our room at the Yoga studio in El Salvador.  I picked it up, and read it easily in a few hours.  Even though the story was published more than 35 years ago, it actually is very timely by today’s standards.  In our current state of egotistical leaders, selfish and fast-paced lives, and sometimes frightening world – looking at the Taoism beliefs through the simple mind of Pooh is brilliant.

    “Hoff uses many of Milne’s characters to symbolize ideas that differ from or accentuate Taoist tenets. Winnie-the-Pooh himself, for example, personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of “effortless doing,” and pu, the concept of being open to, but unburdened by, experience, and it is also a metaphor for natural human nature. In contrast, characters like Owl and Rabbit over-complicate problems, often over-thinking to the point of confusion, and Eeyore pessimistically complains and frets about existence, unable to just be. Hoff regards Pooh’s simpleminded nature, unsophisticated worldview and instinctive problem-solving methods as conveniently representative of the Taoist philosophical foundation. The book also incorporates translated excerpts from various prominent Taoist texts, from authors such as Laozi and Zhuangzi.” (taken from Wikipedia).

    A simple and easy read for a lazy Sunday in the hammock.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four Stars for the Tao of Pooh by Ben Hoff

    Read last week’s review of The Dovekeepers: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

    Inspire

    Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

    My Experience

    Location: Costa Rica

    I had heard a lot about Americans who travel to Costa Rica to have dental work done.  I always thought of this as something “old” people did.  LOL.  Face the music – my time had come.

    When my husband retired we were able to continue our medical insurance through his company but not dental.  So for the past three years we have not had dental insurance.  I continue to get my teeth cleaned every six months and just pay cash.  No big deal.

    Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

    The view at Meza Dental

    But then a problem came along.  I first noticed it when we were walking our first Camino a year and a half ago.  I had the painful tooth looked at by a surprisingly wonderful dentist in Tunisia who diagnosed me with bone loss.  She put me on an antibiotic and I was able to forget about the tooth until we returned to the USA last summer.

    Back in the USA my local dentist confirmed the diagnosis and quoted me $7500 for an extraction and implant procedure.

    Holy Molars!  I can think of a whole lot of things I would rather do with $7500 than give it to my dentist (plane tickets, hotels, food…). I got a second opinion, about $1000 less.  I decided to continue to live with it for a while, but the thought of dental tourism began to develop in my head.

    I knew we were going to Costa Rica, one of the countries with the best reputation for dental tourism.  About three months ago my tooth once

    Surgery

    again began to throb and give me pain and I was using Ibuprofen way too often.  So I began some intensive research.

    Through another blogger I found in one of my blogging groups I landed on Meza Dental in San Jose Costa Rica.  I did a bunch of research about them, and in general about the safety of dental work in Costa Rica.  I was impressed.  I began an email conversation with Meza and they were incredibly helpful and patient with me and my million questions.  I decided to do the extraction and implant and a bone graft while in Costa Rica.  These three procedures, as well as an overall cleaning and two x-rays cost me $1700.  A price tag that didn’t give me a toothache.

    Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

    All smiles again.

    It’s been a couple of weeks now and the stitches are nearly gone, and other than the fact I have a gaping hole in my mouth, I feel really great.  I have now found  a new dentist at home where I can finish the procedure after the required six months of healing.  I will need an abutment and a crown affixed.  This will cost me a little more than $1000.

    I am super happy with the results of the work I had done, and the cost.  I would definitely consider this again should future problems arise.  During the two days I spent at Meza Dental clinic I met only Americans in the waiting room – several who were in Costa Rica for the second and third time having major reconstructive and even cosmetic dentistry work done.

    So, if you have ever worried about having dental work done outside of the USA, smile, and check out Meza Dental in San Jose Costa Rica.

     

     

    Central America  --  Inspire

    Lessons on the Road

    Lodging Failure and Being Flexible

    Location: Belize

    Lessons on the Road. It doesn’t happen often. And in fact, in our nearly three years of full-time travel this is the first time we’ve had a total lodging failure.

    But it happened and we know the importance of flexibility.  Flexibility in My Fab fifties Life. Lessons on the road.

    Lonely Planet rated them well.  And my Central America Lonely Planet Book is current.  They had what appeared to be an up to date website, although I should have had some suspicion when the online booking didn’t work.

    I emailed them months ago and made a “reservation”.  I confirmed via email a few weeks ago.  But when we arrived it seemed no one was expecting us.  The resort seemed abandoned.  And the house we had “booked” appeared to have not been lived in or cleaned for a very long time.

    I tried to “grin and bear it” for the sake of our two sons who are traveling with us. But when we found the dead rodent I said we were leaving.

    And so we spent one restless night and I couldn’t wait to get out of there at first light. We left money on the counter for one night and sent an email explaining how filthy the house was. And even now, five days later, there has been no response.

    Such a weird experience.  Another travel memory to go down in the book.  We learn.  We have adventures.  Nearly 100% of the time it works out.  But this place was an epic failure. A total breakdown of communication.  A filthy dirty mess.

    And so we moved on.  Lessons on the road.

     

     

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Dovekeepers: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Powerful.  This story is powerful.  These women are powerful. The history is powerful.  The Dovekeepers: A Novel by Alice Hoffman is one of the most powerful books I have read in a very long time.

    I actually know very little about the history of Israel, Jerusalem and the legend of Masada – the last stronghold of the Jews during the Roman siege in 73 AD.  After reading this novel however, I am so intrigued to learn more about the plight of these people – a struggle that has continued for thousands of years.

    A beautifully written tale weaving fact and fiction together, Hoffman creates four remarkable women who lead the reader through this turbulent, magical, bloody, faithful and powerful period of history.  Each of these powerful women bring a different strength, different background, different loss and different love to Masada.  The author uses Biblical history and the historical chronicle by Flavius Josephus, a Jewish rebel leader captured by the Romans.  Through her meticulous research she captures the magic of the era and creates these characters, developing the story through their lives, as they each find themselves in Masada by different paths. Each women carries with her secrets and strengths that come to play in the final days of the bloody siege that will ultimately take the lives of more than 1000 men, women and children, and change the course of history.

    Who survives in this amazing fictional tale of a real-life event?  You must read The Dovekeepers to find out.  Read it today.  A fascinating and powerful novel.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for the The Dovekeepers: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

    Read last week’s review of Twenty-Five Years in Provence

    Central America

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

    Please Share our Blog

     

     

     

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Year in Provence & My Twenty-Five Years in Provence by Peter Mayle

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Witty and talented writer Peter Mayle passed away in 2018.  But his mark will live on in all those who have grown to love Provence as he did during his 25 years living there.

    I picked up the book A Year In Provence at a lending library in one of the Airbnb’s we stayed at in Spain.  I don’t know why I had never read this book.  I loved it.  So humorous and insightful to the trials and triumphs of Mayle and his wife who left behind cold and rainy England for their new life in Provence.

    Certainly Mayle’s best seller changed both him and his beloved Provence.  And certainly he had moments of regret about that.  But after twenty-five years he realized he had more story to tell and thus a second book My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now. The second book is just as witty and fun with a bit of nostalgia thrown in as Mayle reflects on his life and love of this unique, beautiful, delicious part of France – home to an eccentric and lovable collection of patriotic Provencals.

    Both books are short and easy to read and I really encourage reading them sequentially.  It will make you want to spend a few month in Provence – or perhaps the rest of your life.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Mayle’s A Year in Provence and My Twenty-Five Years in Provence: Reflections on Then and Now

    Read last week’s review of Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.

     

    Central America

    Simply Surprising El Salvador

    See it Before the Secret Gets Out

    Location: El Tunco El Salvador

    We have spent the past two weeks in tiny and surprising El Salvador.  So unexpected; the ocean, the mountains, the people, the food.  Simply surprising El Salvador.

    Why El Salvador

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    The rock at Playa El Tunco

    ElSalvador gets a bad rap.  In the American media you only hear about the bad things.  Currently the bad thing in El Salvador is gang violence.  The civil war is over, but gang violence  plagues certain parts of the country.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    But not everywhere.  Most places are safe and welcoming to tourists, locals are happy to have you here to enjoy this developing country they love.  But most Americans haven’t ventured here…which is unfortunate.  Americans still flock to Mexico, a place plagued with violent gangs, cartels, kidnappings and corruption…and yet El Salvador remains elusive to American tourists. I don’t get it?

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    We spent two wonderful weeks in El Salvador,  a tiny country about the size of Massachusetts, with about the same population (6 million).  It’s the only Central American country without a Caribbean coast (Belize the only one with out a Pacific Coast).  El Salvador’s coastline on the Pacific is about 307km, and the visitors who do find their way here are mostly surfers, drawn to the beautiful warm waters and spectacular swells.

    Fabulous El Tunco

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Surf’s up

    Luckily for us we chose to stay in Playa El Tunco, though we didn’t know much about it. We were looking for ocean beaches, and found them here, where surfing is king.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Welcome to El Tunco

    Even though we don’t surf, we found plenty of ways to enjoy Playa El Tunco and were able to explore further afield from this location.  Given El Salvador’s tiny size, it’s easy to stay on the coast and take day-trips inland and to the mountains.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    layers of ash at Joya de Ceren

    The best decision we made was booking an airbnb room at Balance Yoga Retreat, right in El Tunco and walking distance to everything we might need.  Balance does daily yoga classes, as well as retreats multiple times a year.  While we were here we were one of just two guests staying and I took advantage of yoga every day (read more about that here). We enjoyed the beautiful little oasis with the pool, hammocks and flora. Owners (and Americans) Lindsey and Adrian were wonderful to us and we would certainly come back here again someday.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    San Andreas Mayan Ruins

    Adrian and Lindsey helped us set up a driver for two different day trips.  First we visited Joya de Ceren village.  It was fascinating to learn about this lost pre-Colombian Mayan village, discovered beneath 14 layers of volcanic ash from nearby Santa Ana volcano. The
    site is now an archeological UNESCO site. We continued on to the San Andreas Mayan Ruins, one of several Mayan Ruins found in El Salvador dating back to 900 BC.  The Mayans ruled much of what we now think of as Central America from about 2600BC (oldest finding in Belize) until about 1000 years ago, long before the Incas or the Spanish conquistadors. Archeologists believe the culture died out due to a historic drought that plagued the region for years.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Mural in Ataco

     

    Our second day trip was to the mountainous villages north and east of El Tunco, scattered in the coffee growing region of El Salvador.  El Salvador is known around the world for rich and delicious coffee, and on this trip we made sure to pick up some coffee, as well as several other wonderful locally made crafts for gifts for family and friends.  Three mountain towns (Ataco, Apaneca, Juayua) along La Ruta de las Flores have weekend festivals where you can buy just about anything from socks to ceramics as well as taste a wide variety of El Salvadoran  specialities.  Our favorite food find on this day were the delicious riguas, a corn dough  pancake filled with cheese, wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf and then fried crispy on the griddle. Riguas are a speciality of this mountain region of El Salvador. (see a recipe here).

    Things We Loved

    There are other day trips easily done from El Tunco that we did not do, such as hiking the volcano or swimming in waterfalls or going to a mud spa.  But we actually really enjoyed just hanging out in the tiny village, which has a surprising variety of restaurants and fun things to do.  Our favorites included;

    • Balance Yoga – possibly the best yoga classes I have ever taken and very reasonably priced
    • Exploring the El Tunco caves just south of town at low tide
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      El Tunco caves

      – you can only go here at low tide and we were lucky enough to have some really low tides while we were here. It was so fascinating we went twice.  Just beautiful.

    • Watching the sunset over the Pacific with a $1.25 beer at any of the half-dozen beach front bars.  Our favorite bars were Casa Miramar and La Bocana.
    • Sitting on the rocky beach and watching the surfers do their thing.  It’s like watching a ballet on a freeway…in a storm!
    • Eating pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador at either Nancy’s Pupusa or Christy’s – both tiny mom and pop shops. See a pupusa recipe here.  Christy’s also has a variety of other items on their menu including delicious tacos and sopa de pollo.  You can also get your laundry done at Christy’s! A one-stop-shop.
    • One of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had was at Mopelia, where you can find a nice selection of American and European craft brews
    • Dinner at El Tunco Velos was a nice surprise, where I had a fabulous salad of lettuce, strawberries and feta that was so delicious. Lettuce as usual is hard to find in grocery stores, so I was very happy to find this salad.
    • Lots of little shops cater mostly to surfers, but I bought a t-shirt at Get Up Stand Up, where they
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      Yummy pupusa

      manufacture everything they sell including darling reversible swimsuits.

    • My other favorite shop was La sirena, a hole-in-the-wall gift shop of unique and inexpensive souvenirs locally made.
    • Surf lessons are big, for beginner to advanced.  We didn’t tackle this but it looked fun.  Or try renting stand up paddle boards or take a guided SUP tour.
    • We tried to find a memorial in La Libertad that is dedicated to two US Nuns and two missionaries who were raped and murdered in 1980, a few months before the murder of San Salvador Arch Bishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero.   These murders (by El Salvador National Guards) launched the long civil war in El Salvador.  Unfortunately no one we asked knew where this memorial was, so we did not see it.  The history of these murders and how it launched the bloody war is fascinating.  You can read about it here.

     

    Add It to Your Bucketlist

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    $1.25 beers

    If you decide to come here (and you should) be sure to be in Playa El Tunco beyond a weekend.  The tiny village swells in population on weekends, as El Salvadorans (known as guanacos) come here from San Salvador (one hour) and La Libertad (20 minutes) for the day or the weekend of sun, surf and fun.  From Monday – Friday afternoon the town is mostly local, quiet and serene. That’s when I liked it best.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Sunset

    During our two weeks here I have met so many lovely people, mostly young (20’s and 30’s) surfers from the USA, Canada and a few European countries.  I have met no-one my age or even close.  Which needs to change.  El Tunco and El Salvador really should be on your bucket list, no matter your age, or if you surf.  It’s a wonderful place, a beautiful culture and a friendly country.  Simply surprising El Salvador. We will be back.

     

    See it before the secret gets out.

    Next stop. Belize.

     

     

     

     

    Please Share our blog